Global famine warning as UN looks to access Ukraine harvest

UN Secretary-General António Guterres has warned the world faces a global hunger crisis, and COVID, climate change and the war in Ukraine creates a perfect storm for the food industry.

Speaking to delegate at the “Response to the Multiple Challenges to Global Food Security”, in Berlin he warned 2023 was set to deliver a major hunger crisis affecting billions across the world

“We face an unprecedented global hunger crisis,” Guterres explained. “The war in Ukraine has compounded problems that have been brewing for years:  climate disruption; the COVID-19 pandemic; the deeply unequal recovery.  This was already apparent when I visited the Sahel region of Africa last month.  Leaders warned me that unless we act now, a dangerous situation could turn into a catastrophe.  The Horn of Africa is also suffering its worst drought in decades.”

He revealed, in an effort to ease the looming crisis, the secretary-general of the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD), Rebeca Grynspan, and the UN’s humanitarian chief, Martin Griffiths, are continuing talks aiming to create a package deal that will enable Ukraine to export food, not only by land, but through the Black Sea, and will bring Russian food and fertilizer to world markets without restrictions.

While he refused to go into specific details it is believed the UN has been engaged in high level talks with the Lloyd’s market to create a consortium to insure the risks of Ukraine grain and wheat harvest being exported via the Black Sea

“According to the World Food Programme (WFP), in the past two years, the number of severely food‑insecure people around the world has more than doubled to 276 million,” added Guterres.  “There is a real risk that multiple famines will be declared in 2022.”

He added that experts were predicting worse was yet to come, and the full impacts of the war and ongoing climate change were exacerbated.

“2023 could be even worse,” he continued. “The main costs to farmers are fertilizers and energy.  Fertilizer prices have risen by more than half in the past year, and energy prices by more than two thirds.  All harvests will be hit, including rice and corn — affecting billions of people across Asia, Africa and the Americas.  This year’s food access issues could become next year’s global food shortage.  No country will be immune to the social and economic repercussions of such a catastrophe.

“Humanitarian support is essential, but it is not enough.  Because this is not just a food crisis.  It goes beyond food and requires a coordinated multilateral approach, with multidimensional solutions.”

“First, there can be no effective solution to the global food crisis without reintegrating Ukraine’s food production, as well as the food and fertilizer produced by Russia, into world markets — despite the war,” Guterres explained. “I have been in intense contact with Ukraine, Russian Federation, Turkey, United States, European Union and others on this issue.”

“Second, solving the food crisis requires solving the finance crisis in the developing world,” he continued.  “Hundreds of millions of people on the poverty line have been crushed by this crisis — informal workers who are mainly women; small holder farmers; micro and small business owners; people with disabilities.

“Developed countries and international financial institutions need to make resources available to help Governments support and invest in their people, leaving no one behind.”

He continued those emerging economies needed economic help if they were to mitigate the worst effects of the food crisis.

“Developing countries that face debt default must have access to effective debt relief to keep their economies afloat and their people thriving,” Guterres. “Financial institutions must find the flexibility and understanding to get resources where they are needed most.  The Food and Agriculture Organization’s (FAO) proposal for a Food Import Financing Facility could help the most exposed countries meet their immediate needs.

“Today’s discussions are an opportunity for concrete steps to stabilise global food markets and tackle the volatility of commodity prices.  We need strong political and private sector leadership for a coordinated multilateral response.  We cannot accept mass hunger and starvation in the twenty-first century.”

“According to the World Food Programme (WFP), in the past two years, the number of severely food‑insecure people around the world has more than doubled to 276 million.”

António Guterres, United Nations